Recent weeks were a contrast to the time I spent in England in March (see my previous blog). With a cold wet spring in New England I picked up a virus which settled in my chest and caused a hacking cough, the kind that keeps you awake at night. An inhaler helped to stop the cough but by then I had strained muscles near my ribs in the back, and the pain was sharp. I had experienced similar pain a few years ago so I knew what to do – Vicodin, heating pad, stretching and strengthening exercises. Thankfully, this treatment worked within a week or so. I relate this episode not to seek sympathy, but rather to reflect upon the relationship between illness and the state of one’s soul.
What I did not tell you was that my schedule was particularly busy during the previous month with guest speaking, retreats and workshops, continuing through the first ten days of my illness. It was not the busyness so much that dragged me down but my own refusal to cancel some of the appointments, so that I might rest. This is a problem I have always had –you would think in retirement it would not be an issue- but I always like to follow through with commitments. The sense of obligation is strong, but it can be my own worst enemy, and should be outweighed by an obligation to my own health. If one is sick, one should not go to work. This should not only be a basic human right but also a responsibility to one’s own health and the health of co-workers and family (yet how many U. S. employers do not provide paid sick leave?)
I’ve been reading a book “The Forsaken Garden” by Nancy Ryley (Quest Books, 1998). One of her themes is taken from C. G. Jung and William Blake that the feminine principle (creativity, caring, nurturing) in the psyche needs to be allowed expression and given priority. Too often in our society a distorted masculine principle, in the form of patriarchy, has ruled with is emphases on profit and compulsion and reason, science, technology and control at all costs. So I ask: was my rib pain a sign of the protest of the feminine within my soul? (According to the metaphorical language of Genesis 2:21-22, God created woman from one of Adam’s ribs!) My behavior in compulsively pushing myself to work when I was sick was decidedly patriarchal, not respectful of the feminine principle of caring for self and others.
Do you consider that the location of pain in your body also may point to the spiritual struggles you are facing? Are the depths of Psalm 130 places in the body as well as the soul? (“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!”) Listening to the needs of my body would have led to rest and healing much sooner than the route I took. It would also have been a sign of a good self-love and self-caring practice. I do not mean that we bring illness on ourselves. The virus I caught was not of my own doing, but the illness summons a response of good self-love. Am I prepared to pay attention to the summons when it comes? What has been your experience?